FROM FLIGHTLINE’S MALIBU TO TAIBA’S RUNHAPPY DERBY, TOP PERFORMANCES WERE THE ORDER OF THE DAY THROUGHOUT 76-DAY WINTER/SPRING MEET
CLOSING DAY HANDLE OF $17.1 MILLION UP 12.2 PERCENT, AVERAGE DAILY HANDLE UP TWO PERCENT
ARCADIA, Calif. (June 19, 2022)–From an 11 ½ length blitz by superstar Flightline in the opening day Malibu Stakes Dec. 26, to Express Train’s Santa Anita Handicap win March 5, to Taiba’s Runhappy Santa Anita Derby April 9, to Stilleto Boy’s Californian April 30 and Count Again’s Shoemaker Mile on May 30, Santa Anita’s 2021-22 Winter/Spring Meeting was replete with command performances and that held true on closing day, as French-bred Neige Blanche notched her third stakes win of the meet in the $100,000 Possibly Perfect Stakes.
In a major upset, Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale registered his fourth career win in the 83rd running of the marathon Grade III San Juan Capistrano Stakes, as Chilean-bred Breakpoint, under Tyler Baze, led gate to wire over a mile and three quarters on turf and paid $20.20 to win.
In what shaped up as the best betting race on the closing day card, the Grade III, $100,000 American Stakes went to favored Hong Kong Harry, who blasted off the turn for home to win by three quarters of a length under Ramon Vazquez for Phil D’Amato.
“We had so many outstanding performances dating back to opening day and this is a process that requires teamwork, cooperation and a lot of hard work,” said Nate Newby, Santa Anita Senior Vice President and General Manager. “This simply does not happen without the investment and commitment of great owners and an outstanding group of dedicated horsemen and horsewomen.”
Today’s closing day all-sources handle of $17.1 million represented a 17 percent increase over closing day a year ago and meet-long all-sources handle for the 76-day stand was $778.5 million, representing a two percent hike in average daily handle over 2021.
“It’s very gratifying to finish up the way we did today,” said Newby. “With a mandatory payout, the 20 cent Rainbow Pick Six handled $3.8 million today, for a total pool of $4.1 million. Additionally, we were up 12.2 percent in all sources handle today and we want to sincerely thank our horse players and also commend our Racing Office for putting together a terrific card today. With this kind of a finish, we can’t wait to welcome everyone back for our Autumn Meet on Sept. 30.”
Beginning the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, through 76 racing days culminating today with three stakes, outstanding performances, both equine and human, were the order of the day from start to finish.
French native Flavien Prat who guided the John Sadler-trained Flightline to his smashing victory in the Grade I Malibu on Dec. 26, was head and head with Hall of Fame veteran Johnny Velazquez through the first five days of racing, with each tied 14 wins entering day six on Jan. 7 and Prat leading “Johnny V.” four to three in the stakes-won department.
From there, Prat stepped on the gas and never relinquished command, as he held a 72-53 edge over Juan Hernandez through his final day as full-time member of the Santa Anita jockey colony on April 3. At that point, Hernandez went on a roll and ended up amassing 104 victories, 31 better than the departed Prat and it was the same story in the stakes-won category, with Hernandez leading on the final lap 24-15.
“For a jockey, I think it’s like a dream come true to be leading rider here at Santa Anita,” said Hernandez in a Winner’s Circle ceremony Sunday. “I’m just really happy. I’d like to thank everybody, all the trainers and the owners for supporting me.”
In the trainer’s division, Phil D’Amato was tied with Doug O’Neill at 31 wins on April 2. D’Amato then edged clear with a pair of stakes wins on April 9 and was never headed thereafter, finishing with an astonishing 57 wins on grass for a Winter/Spring record total of 63 victories, 16 of them in stakes.
“So many things go into this game, but most importantly, you have to have a really good team behind you,” said D’Amato on Sunday. “To be able to manage these horses, train them and keep them happy and healthy. A lot goes into it and most importantly it’s the owners…
“We’ve got a great turf program here at Santa Anita. An excellent turf course here. I think second to none. The key is to find horses who like fast ground. We’ve got a great team in Ireland that does that, and we’ve had successful years…”
Santa Anita’s Director of Racing and Racing Secretary Chris Merz expressed his thanks to the many people who have participated throughout the 76-day meet.
“We would like to thank our owners and trainers for a great Winter/Spring Meet,” he said. “We had many outstanding performances throughout the meet and that doesn’t happen without having great owners and an outstanding trainer colony.”
In terms of top equine performances, Flightline’s Malibu ranks first, as he earned an astronomical 118 Beyer Speed Figure, tops in America for 2021. With his recent win in the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park, Flightline, who is owned by Hronis Racing, LLC, Siena Farm, LLC, Summerwind Equine, LLC, West Point Thoroughbreds and Woodford Racing, LLC, is now unbeaten in four starts.
Trained by John Shirreffs and owned by C R K Stable, Express Train put it all together under Victor Espinoza, winning the Big ‘Cap by a head while getting the mile and one quarter in 2:03.22. Trained by Ed Moger and owned by his brother Steve, Stilleto Boy ran the best race of his career in upsetting Express Train in the Grade II Californian, as he went to the front under Juan Hernandez and he never relinquished command, winning by 2 ¼ lengths while getting a mile and one eighth in 1:48.07.
In the Grade I Shoemaker Mile, Count Again was totally dominant under Irad Ortiz, Jr., winning by 2 ¼ lengths while getting the distance on turf in 1:32.40. Trained by Phil D’Amato and owned by Agave Racing Stable and Sam-Son Farms, 7-year-old Count Again earned a career-best 108 Beyer.
The Craig Lewis-trained Brickyard Ride was also very prominent among the meet’s top performers, winning four stakes, capped by a dominant gate to wire score in the Grade III Kona Gold Stakes April 30. A 5-year-old California-bred horse by Clubhouse Ride, Brickyard Ride, owned and bred by Alfred Pais, won by 2 ¼ lengths and got 6 ½ furlongs in a rapid 1:15.07 under regular rider Juan Hernandez.
The Leonard Powell-trained Neige Blanche, a long fused 5-year-old French-bred mare, also had an outstanding meet, winning a pair of graded stakes, the Grade III, 1 ½ mile Astra on Jan. 17 and the Grade III, 1 ½ mile Santa Barbara May 14, prior to notching her third stakes win of the meet in the closing day $100,000 Possibly Perfect Stakes as she got a mile and one quarter on turf while winning by one length under Hernandez.
The leading owners at the meet were Jedd, Mark and Tim Cohen’s Red Baron’s Barn and Rancho Temescal, who bagged an incredible 22 wins.
“It’s amazing,” said Tim Cohen following race eight. “My dad (Jedd Cohen) has been here since 1960. It’s Father’s Day and to win (the leading owner title) on Father’s Day and doing with my dad, it is just really great…It takes a total team…From the farm, everybody in the barn, the stables, it is just a humbling award, to be honest.”
Santa Anita will be open as a simulcast facility throughout the upcoming Los Alamitos and Del Mar summer race meetings and reopen for live racing on Sept. 30 for its 18-day Autumn Meet. For additional information please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.